Is it possible to have true Christian unity with a brother or sister in Christ and yet not be able to be part of the same church or denomination with that brother or sister in Christ because of biblical convictions? Yes, I believe it is. They are actually necessary. And if you hang with me, I will give you a brief synopsis of why I think so. First, we live in a fallen world with finite minds. Therefore, denominations or different churches are not necessarily bad. The argument should never be over whether Scripture is inspired, inerrant, infallible and the sole final authority, sufficient for all things. No, if a church argues against that, they have lost their right and authority to be a church. The argument arises not where scripture is the standard. The argument always should arise under the heading of the interpretation of that standard.
And believe it or not there can be different interpretations on secondary issues. Also, believe it or not, it is good and right to take stances with solid firm biblical conviction on secondary issues and still have Christian unity and fellowship with one who disagrees. Just not fellowship in the same church type of fellowship. But rather a fellowship across denominational lines or church lines.
This is for good reason like I said, we live in a fallen world. For some reason, God did not send us his word and put a force field around it, and then when we read it, we get an instantaneous perfect interpretation. No, he gave us translators and teachers and a broad Christian community divided up into smaller communities for some reason. This could be for many reasons. Which is not the point for me writing here.
But one thing we have to know is that denominations and various churches are not bad. Just like there are various gifts within each local church, there are also various gifts with the body of believers in the world as a whole. There is a good reason that their are good and right and helpful differences in Bible translations, and commentaries, and creeds and affirmations of faith and so on and so forth. Maybe at the very least it is to keep us humble, lest we think we have the one true view, that we are the one true church and everyone else is a heretic. In my view, this is a number one sign of a cult. We've had churches with this view, even big ones that have done much damage in the world.
I don't think there is going to be a one world church in the sense of that church rules and reigns and has total say so over everything until Jesus returns for good reason. And that is because of sin. Even something as good and beautiful as the word can do much harm in the hands of sinful man. Even in the hands of sinful men with good intentions.
Until Jesus returns to do away with sin so that there will be perfect interpretation there will be no perfect unity. And until then there is also a good reason for different denominations and churches, for they provide checks and balances in a world where we need checks and balances. Yes, there are heretical churches and false churches. But that is another story as well.
For now, just know that biblically held firm convictions that create different churches and even denominations are not always bad, but even actually needed. And that having them doesn't actually destroy Christian unity.
Not only that but the biggest kind of Christian unity we should worry about is the unity in our own churches. This is what the Apostles were addressing when they wrote to each individual church. The letter to the church in Corinth was not written to the church in Galatia. There is no formal organizational structure or call to how each church is to unite in the Bible. The Pastor of one church is not a Pastor of another. Members of one church are not members of another. There are clear lines for a reason. Though there are implications for each individual letter to each church because the Bible is for all people everywhere and at all times. We also have to first interpret it in its original context first.
So we can see very easily that there are good reasons for different churches, first out of necessity and second because it is the Biblical pattern for each church being fully the church in its specific locale.
There is no worldwide organization for a very good reason. Each church is to be its own church family within the context of the greater family of God until Christ returns and we are all perfectly united into one big perfected family.
So, yes, accept your brothers and sister in Christ everywhere as Christ has accepted them on the basis of grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
But don't give up your biblical convictions about everything in order to so. One day we will find out who is right about everything. Until then, dig deep, study to show thyself approved, and try your best to the power of the Spirit to teach and follow the Bible as close as you can. It would be funny if we were all wrong about everything except the most important things. Nevertheless, study to show thyself approved (2 Timothy 3:16) Bottom line: To say that different denominations or different churches with different ways of doing things are always bad is to say that either you or your church has the perfect interpretation and that if every other church just did it your way - then it would be great. Or it's to say, we should just give up our convictions about anything that is not a fundamental core belief so that we can have unity at all cost.
Both of those are bad. We have different denominations and different churches with different interpretations for two really good reasons. One is out of necessity, to protect ourselves. A one world church organization in a world where sin still abounds would be very dangerous.
And second, because it is good and right and helpful to have biblical convictions about everything the Bible says.
It is possible to have unity across church lines and that is a good thing. It is a good thing to have church lines. It is also a good thing to have unity. It’s a good thing to have both. One day Jesus will return and make all things right, and not only will we will know the good and right reasons for all of it, but we will also have a unity that is most perfected then. Until then, let’s have unity amongst our diversity.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:12-16)